Stuck in a rare losing skid, Lisa Bluder is willing to try just about anything to get her team back on track.
As the long-time Iowa women's coach demonstrated on Sunday that includes making lineup changes.
Iowa switched up its starting lineup for the first time in Big Ten play on Sunday, with freshman Megan Gustafson and Tania Davis replacing Kali Peschel and Alexa Kastanek.
Both freshmen made the most of their minutes.
Gustafson scored seven points in her first career start, while Davis had 14 points and seven assists with just one turnover in her first career Big Ten starting nod.
Davis’ play of late was part of the reason the 5-foot-4 freshman was back in the starting lineup for the third time this season.
In her last three games, Davis is averaging 13 points and six assists and has committed just six turnovers in a combined 83 minutes.
“She has been playing really well, and I think as a freshman, it is really hard to be a leader, and yet she is out there leading,” Bluder said of Davis. “She is showing emotion, she is gathering the troops, and so I’m extremely happy with what Tania is doing out there.”
Peschel sat out Sunday’s game, along with fellow senior Nicole Smith, for a violation of team rules. Kastanek played 18 minutes off the bench, scoring three points.
Both players had started the first 19 games.
On Tuesday, Bluder said she doubted that Peschel, a co-captain averaging 5.1 points per game, would start on Thursday, saying the decision on starting wasn’t affected by what led to her one-game suspension.
Bluder added that the decision to move the 6-foot-3 Gustafson into the starting lineup was based on production.
“With Megan, it was just more of a productivity thing,” Bluder said. “It just was an attempt at getting productivity.”
PLENTY TO PLAY FOR: Despite its recent struggles, Iowa has plenty to play for.
Charlie Creme has Iowa in the NCAA Tournament field of 64 in his latest Bracketology released Monday.
Creme has the Hawkeyes in his “Last Four In” section and has Iowa as a No. 9 seed playing projected Horizon League champion Green Bay in Columbia, SC.
At 3-5 in conference play, Bluder knows there is work to be done to play in a ninth straight NCAA Tournament, but believes a berth is attainable.
“I still think we can get to a minimum of that 9-9 mark. With our schedule ... I think if we get to 9-9, which is 6-4 in our last 10 games, that is very doable,” Bluder said.
STREAK STARTERS: Iowa had a 25-game home winning streak snapped with a 76-56 loss to Maryland on Jan. 10 and lost back-to-back homes games when Penn State won at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 20.
The Hawkeyes are 7-2 this season in Iowa City, buyst they just need a win in any building.
“To get any win, I don’t care where it happens. I don’t care if it happens on Mars. Right now, we just need to get a win,” Bluder said.
COMPLETE GAMES: Ally Disterhoft knows the importance of playing complete games, and the junior forward isn’t talking about herself logging a full 40 minutes.
Disterhoft, who does rank sixth in the Big Ten playing 35.8 points per game, says Iowa needs to find a way to put together four full quarters to snap its three-game losing skid.
Iowa outscored Purdue 48-41 in the second and third quarters on Sunday but was bested 49-25 by the Boilermakers in the first and fourth quarters of a 90-73 loss.
“We just have to put together complete games,” Disterhoft said. “You can’t rely on playing two great quarters and expect to win a game."
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.